Autostraddle March Madness 2024: “The Kids Are Alright” Round One — Jocks

Header: The 6th Annual Autostraddle March Madness 2024

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Oh, what a glorious day.. .between the men’s and women’s tournaments, there are 32 basketball games on television today and I’m in heaven. Already, in the women’s tournament, we’ve see Middle Tennessee State come back from being 18 points down to upset Louisville… which means we won’t get that LSU vs. Louisville match-up I’d been anticipating since the bracket dropped. Duke came back from nine down at the half to secure the win over Richmond, which sets up a match-up with former Duke guard Celeste Taylor and the Ohio State Buckeyes. And of course, South Carolina continues to do South Carolina things…

Over on the men’s side, it’s been absolute madness. I feel like Charlie Brown with the football: every year, I put my faith in the Kentucky Wildcats and every year, they disappoint. Are we really on the precipice of having coaching vacancies for both the men’s and women’s basketball teams in Lexington? Samford got hosed with a blown call in their game against Kansas last night: it was a clean block. It used to be that the 5-12 matchups were prone to the most upsets in the first round but this year, it looks like the 6-11 matchups are delivering. Three of four 11-seeds have punched their ticket to the next round.

I’m so excited even if it means I’m definitely not getting enough sleep. So now let’s see what madness y’all have wrought in the opening round of Autostraddle March Madness, by revisiting your votes in the Brainiacs region.

The overall #1 seed, Elena Alvarez, finished with the most votes of any competitor in the region, so she easily advances to the next round. But that might be where the easy stops because she’ll face the wee lesbian herself, Clare Devlin, in round two. Our favorite Derry girl won handily over Nas Paracha in their first round match-up. While I saw that coming — it was one of my predictions — I’m still a little sad to see Ackley Bridge bow out… it really is one of my favorite shows.

In the match-up that had Heather Hogan rethinking our friendship, Angelica Porter-Kennard edged out Amity Blight. Much to my surprise, she’ll face The Imperfects Abbi Singh in the next round, as the aspiring scientist pulled out what I think was the biggest upset in the first round, by beating Josie Saltzman. How does a one season show on Netflix beat a character who has history across multiple shows? Amazing… Netflix really played themselves by cancelling The Imperfects.

All the second round match-ups in this region are tough but Leighton Murray vs. Willow Rosenberg?! That might border on impossible. Both competitors won their first round match-ups handily. On paper, Ola Nyman’s win over Jo MacKenzie might seem like an upset, but given how inaccessible Bad Behaviour is for audiences outside Australia, I’m not surprised. The Sex Education star will face Tess Pearson from This Is Us in the next round… after the future social worker downed Kitty Song-Covey in a first round upset. How’d your predictions fair?

I’m wasn’t surprised to discover that, already, we have no perfect brackets. We do have several near perfect brackets, though, and I’m anxious to see how they hold up against the Jocks region.

Your Jocks:

#1 seed Casey Gardner vs. #16 seed Beth Cassidy

#1. Casey Gardner, Atypical

When Coach Briggs calls Casey into his office, she finds him sitting with the Athletic Director of Clayton High, a prestigious prep school. Casey assumes that she’s here to contest her recent wins in the 400 and relay — “do you need me to pee in a cup?” she asks — but, no, the AD assures her: this is a recruitment visit. Casey smirks in response but doesn’t let her excitement show until she’s on her way home with Evan.

“Clayton is the best school in the state. And their girls go to Division I colleges and the Olympics, and they had a girl that was in a Nike commercial. She outran a tornado,” Casey blurts out, her excitement palpable.

That’s the legacy that Casey stands to — and does — inherit at Clayton Prep: interest from Division I colleges, a shot at the Olympics and a chance to outrun a tornado. Only a fool would bet against her.

 #16. Beth Cassidy, Dare Me

“Some fancy new coach from across the state thinks she can come run my squad?” a tipsy Beth wonders aloud before Collette French arrives and turns her whole world upside down. The coach strips her of her title as captain and opens her spot as top girl — the top level of a pyramid, the flyer — to everyone, including her despised stepsister. But the thing that Beth cannot abide, above all else, is the way her best friend Addy now looks at Collette. Beth recognizes that look because it’s the same way that Beth’s always looked at Addy.

#2 seed Emily Fields vs. #15 seed Addy Hanlon

#2. Emily Fields, Pretty Little Liars

Early in Pretty Little Liars‘ run, Emily’s mother unwittingly plays matchmaker by inviting the neighborhood’s new girl, Maya St. Germain, to spend a few days at their house. When Maya gets her first glimpse of Emily’s room, the first thing she notices are the shelves of trophies and blue ribbons. Emily, however, is modest about her swimming prowess: she claims, “Winning’s great, but if I’ve done my best, I usually feel good about the outcome, no matter what it is.”

Oh, the things we say to impress the new girl our crushes.

Because, the truth is Emily Fields likes to win. She swims extra laps when no one else is around (no problem, not like she’s being hunted by a meglomaniac or anything). She gives her all in meets and in practice. She breaks records in the freestyle and butterfly. And when Paige McCullers challenges her for the relay anchor, Emily doesn’t flinch…she just goes out there and wins.

#15. Addy Hanlon, Dare Me

Addy Hanlon wants out of their small, depressed Midwestern town and she’s determined to use cheerleading to help her get there. She sees Colette French, the new coach — a real coach, a winning coach — as a possibility model. She grew up a few towns over and found her way to the University of Central Florida… so if Colette can make it out, maybe so can she.

What’s more, Colette makes Addy a better cheerleader. She teaches Addy to trust in herself more and to believe that she can step out of Beth Cassidy’s shadow. Colette can help her with back tucks and aerials, she can help Addy get noticed more by colleges. Before Colette, Addy had an exit plan and she talked herself into believing it could happen… but with Colette’s tutelage and faith, Addy starts to believe that maybe there’s a future for her, away from this town.

#3 seed Izzie Taylor vs. #14 seed Toni Shalifoe

#3. Izzie Taylor, Atypical

Izzie Taylor is carrying a lot of weight on her shoulders. Her dad left and her mother’s unreliable so she bears the responsibility of taking care of her three siblings. There’s a lot riding on her time at Clayton Prep — on her time on the track team — so she strives to be perfect all the time. She sets her sights on getting as far away from her mother as she can: by winning a scholarship to UCLA. So she runs, she trains to get better, and pins her hopes on track being her way out.

#14. Toni Shalifoe, The Wilds

“She hoops like a boss, best you don’t cross. Number 3, Toni Shalifoe!” the announces at the Hopewell Lake Firebirds’ pep rally calls out. The crowd goes wild. Toni saunters down the lane, showboats a bit for her audience, with a classic mix of swagger and playfulness, and then she throws up a shot that swishes through the net.

I’m obliged to note — as a basketball fanatic — that of all the basketball playing queerdos on television, Toni might have the best form. She actually shoots like someone who’s held a basketball before in their actual lives, rather than just trying to appear like a seasoned baller through the magic of television. It’s far less common than you’d think (ahem, Big Shot and Long Slow Exhale).

#4 seed Vanessa "Van" Palmer vs. #13 seed Aneesa Qureshi

#4. Vanessa “Van” Palmer, Yellowjackets

The goalkeeper is a team’s last line of defense. The position requires a high level of physicality — the goalie is usually the biggest/tallest player on the pitch — but they still need to be light on their feet, with quick reflexes, to anticipate and respond to whatever’s happening in the match. They’re an in-game manager: goalies have to direct their teammates on how to defend, especially on goals scoring opportunities. Goalkeepers have to have a presence… a je ne sais quoi… that simultaneously bolsters their team while intimidating opponents. But, above all, a goalie has to be resilient, with the memory of a goldfish, to quickly put their successes and failures behind them.

Even while lost in the remote Canadian wilderness, Vanessa “Van” Palmer is still the goalie of the WHS Yellowjackets soccer team. She still embodies all those traits. She’s resilient: she survives things that should’ve killed her. No plane crashes, wolves, blizzards, or starvation are going to take Van out. She’s able to process the losses more quickly than others. She’s able to anticipate the future that Shauna’s baby would’ve had, if they’d survived birth. Van is a goalie, she always will be, even if she’s not on the pitch.

#13. Aneesa Qureshi, Never Have I Ever

In all honesty, we don’t know a lot about Anessa Qureshi’s soccer prowess; Never Have I Ever spends more time making her a foil for Devi than really building our her character’s identity. That said, what makes her a great foil for Devi — she’s charming, charismatic, and people seem to gravitate to her — also makes her transition onto the Sherman Oaks’ soccer team effortless. In her first season, the Crickets’ defender — I’d guess she’s an outside back, though the show never specifies — propels her team to their first district championship since the 80s, scoring the game-winning goal in the process. Fabiola calls her a superstar.

“The way that you faked out that mean-looking girl, and then swerved around that other girl, and then slammed the ball into the net. As a person who loves physics, it was thrilling,” Fab touts after the championship. “And you! I mean, I’m amazed by you. You were brilliant.”

Apparently, Fab’s not the only one impressed by Aneesa’s on the pitch brilliance: within a year, she’s the captain of the team and charged with making cuts. Even recruiters take notice… so while everyone else is worried about their collegiate futures, Anessa has the comfort of knowing she already has a spot secured.

#5 seed Taissa Turner vs. #12 seed Yasmina Fadoula

#5. Taissa Turner, Yellowjackets

Taissa Turner is the Yellowjackets’ central midfielder…or to be more precise, she’s what soccer fans would call a box-to-box midfielder. As the name suggests, the position has the run of the pitch, from one penalty box to the other. It requires an aggressive, attacking mindset: as the midfielder will tackle defenders to regain possession and lead the counterattack in the attacking third. The role requires high levels of fitness — the perfect combination of speed, strength, and stamina — because they’re expected to work on both sides of the ball.

Taissa carries that same mentality both on and off the pitch. It’s why she organizes Allie’s freeze out during practice. It’s why she volunteers to journey South to find help or food or something, ahead of the arrival of winter’s brutal cold. It’s why she vacillates from being cold and cruel to warm and comforting…she’s always playing both sides of the ball.

(Is a little too on the nose that the lesbian plays “box to box?” Probably so.)

#12. Yasmina Fadoula, Jurassic World Camp Cretaceous

There’s an aphorism about two people walking across the African plains when they spot a lion. One of them stops and puts on the running shoes they’ve been carrying in their backpack. The second person laughs and promises them that there’s no way that they can outrun a lion. The runner smiles and responds, “I don’t have to outrun the lion, I just have to outrun you.”

I’m reminded of that everytime I watch Camp Cretaceous (which, thanks to my nephew, is with some disconcerting regularity) and a dinosaur starts to give chase (which happens, pretty much, in every episode): Yasmina “Yaz” Fadoula might not be able to outrun these dinosaurs but she could absolutely leave her friends in the dust if she wanted. She’s a “three-time state track champ, four times placing at nationals, twice in the International World Track Competition.”

And if that weren’t enough, Yaz is a prolific swimmer and diver, having taken lessons for eight years. An all-around athlete!

#6 seed Paige McCullers vs. #11 seed Rosh

#6. Paige McCullers, Pretty Little Liars

When Emily Fields took a break from the Rosewood Swim Team, it was Paige McCullers that stepped up. She became the Sharks’ top swimmer and had her sights set on the captaincy. But when Emily returns to the team — and tries to reclaim her spot — Paige is left scrambling for a way to hold onto power. That, plus her ongoing battle with internalized homophobia, turns Paige into someone she doesn’t want to be, until Emily helps her reclaim swimming as something fun that’s just for her.

That push helps Paige reclaim her love for swimming and, eventually, earns her a full-ride to Stanford, one of the best swim teams in the country. She invites her muse to UHaul with her — “And you’re as good as I am. If they want me, they’ll want you, too” she tells Emily — but as is always the case in Rosewood, plans never, ever go as expected.

#11. Rosh, Young Royals

The students at Young Royals‘ Hillerska Boarding School are a mix of the haves and the have nots. On the one end, there are actual Royals — Swedish aristocracy, including the Crown Prince — and on the other, people like Simon and his sister, Sara, who attend via scholarship and commute from a nearby hamlet. Much of the Young Royals story focuses on Hillerska and the love that Simon finds there with Wilhelm, the aforementioned Crown Prince. But Simon couldn’t survive at Hillerska without the support of his friends at home, including Rosh.

Rosh is bold and brazen. She is never at a loss for words and always ready to speak her mind. Rosh is unwavering in her loyalty to her friends, especially Simon and Ayub. There’s something beautifully authentic about Rosh and her friendships and they ground a show that might otherwise devolve into rich people problems.

We don’t get to see enough of her on the pitch but you imagine that she brings every bit of that brashness to the field. When Simon first tells her about rowing practice at Hillerska, she scoffs, “rowing isn’t a sport, football is a sport.” But when push comes to shove and Simon needs help increasing his stamina for a rowing competition, she’s the first one to volunteer to help.

#7 seed Kirt vs. #10 seed Rumi Joshi

#7. Kirt , Betty

It feels almost wrong to include Kirt among this list of jocks because despite skateboarding being a legitimate sport — in which gays feature prominently — that’s not how it’s reflected in Betty. This isn’t an effort to collect medals or win prize money….here, skating isn’t so much a sport, it’s a community, it’s a lifestyle. But still, it’s an athletic pursuit — and an opportunity to pursue girls, because as Kirt says, “It’s not my fault if my ‘let’s skate’ and my ‘let’s smash’ vibes have some overlap” — and felt worthy of inclusion.

On the board, Kirt feels steady… secure… like she knows exactly how to shift her body to do exactly what she wants. But off it? The soft butch with a big heart who’s just a little oblivious.

#10. Rumi Joshi, Rebel Cheer Squad

Back in 2020, the BBC adapted Don’t Get Mad by Gretchen McNeil into a teen thriller called Get Even. In it, four girls join forces to form DGM and work together to expose the bullies at their school. The show gives Pretty Little Liars vibes. I’ll have more on that show when we get to the Thesbians region but I mention it because Rebel Cheer Squad is the sequel to that show. Same premise, just with a different set of girls…this time, all of them cheerleaders. Their cheerleading and their crime solving helps Bannerman School get its first ever regionals championship trophy.

But Rumi isn’t just a cheerleader, she’s a skilled ballet dancer. She’s gets into the Royal Ballet Company but she lies to her family and friends about it, hoping at they’ll finally give up on the dream for her that she decided, long ago, she didn’t want.

#8 seed Cheryl Blossom vs. #9 seed Aisha Garcia

#8. Cheryl Blossom, Riverdale

Soon after her arrival in Riverdale, Cheryl Blossom approaches Veronica Lodge about joining the cheerleading squad, known as the River Vixens. Kevin snarks, “is cheerleading still a thing?” and — after delivering some snark of her own, natch — Cheryl insists that cheerleading is eternal and iconic. When Veronica tries out, with Betty at her side, but Cheryl is unimpressed. In the end, she invites Veronica to join…but when Veronica won’t join without Betty, she’s forced to invite them both

“That certainty, that entitlement you wear on your head like a crown? It won’t last,” Veronica explains, speaking from past experience. “Eventually, there will be a reckoning. Or, maybe that reckoning is now. And maybe, that reckoning is me.”

And she turns out to be right: after being banished to the back, Veronica challenges Cheryl — who has, of course, assumed her place in front — to a competition. It’s a chance to prove once and for all, by a vote of the Vixens, who has “the maddest skills on this squad.” The vote, unanimously, goes to Veronica.

#9. Aisha Garcia, Saved By The Bell

Bayside’s football team is not very good. The team’s captain and backup quarterback, Jamie, seems more interesting in being his teammates’ friend than winning and it frustrates the team’s new QB1, Aisha Garcia. In response, she works with Coach Slater to get Jamie and the team mad so they perform better on the field. It works…sort of…they still lose but not by nearly as much. Slater encourages Aisha to celebrate the small victories.

But just as the team starts to get good, some parents complain about the game’s propensity to cause injuries and the season is called off. Slater invites his football star to try her hand at wrestling.

“Would I still get to dominate my opponents and crush their spirits in front of their friends and family?” Aisha asks.

“In some ways, even more so because they don’t get to hide their shame inside a helmet,” her coach answers.

That’s all she needed to hear to go from dominating in one sport to dominating in another.

You have 48 hours to cast your ballot in the Jocks Region! This year, you can vote four times over the voting period (or to be more precise once, every 12 hours). I’ll be back on Sunday to introduce you to the competitors in the Rebels region and to share the winners from this opening round.

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A black biracial, bisexual girl raised in the South, working hard to restore North Carolina's good name. Lover of sports, politics, good TV and Sonia Sotomayor. You can follow her latest rants on Twitter.

Natalie has written 396 articles for us.


  1. – Casey Gardner, Atypical
    – Emily Fields, Pretty Little Liars (Just act normal, bitch)
    – Izzie Taylor, Atypical
    – Vanessa “Van” Palmer, Yellowjackets (A member of the unkillable gays squad)
    – Taissa Turner, Yellowjackets
    – Paige McCullers, Pretty Little Liars
    – Rumi Joshi, Rebel Cheer Squad
    – Cheryl Blossom, Riverdale (Bracket favorite)

  2. There’s something giddy-joyful about getting to be a fan refreshing this page a hundred times a day to see who won each round! I did vote for Angie, but now I’m terrified to even look at these jock matchups!

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